David qualified as an actuary 23 years ago and has held a number of actuarial, finance and marketing roles during his career. Since the start of 2007, he has been the Actuarial Function Holder (AFH) for Standard Life’s UK life insurance firms, a ‘Significant Influence Function’ role required of life insurers by the FSA that involves advising the firm on risk and actuarial valuation matters.
There are many roles you can pursue in an actuarial career; Find out more about what an Actuarial Function Holder at Standard Life does here…
Why did you choose a career in the industry?
I really like maths and other intellectual challenges and had originally intended to become a teacher. However, when undertaking a PhD (in Number Theory and Supercomputers) I realised that, while I enjoyed teaching, I also enjoyed using my knowledge in other ways too.
I had heard about actuarial work when doing my first degree (BSc in maths) and various friends put me in touch with ‘real life actuaries’ to speak to.
I was impressed by how much they seemed to enjoy their work – “I love my job” was how one of them put it – and so I decided to give it a go myself.
What is a typical day for you as an Actuarial Function Holder at Standard Life?
I have a really varied role, with a wide range of responsibilities. However, almost everything I am responsible for is done by others, with me guiding, reviewing and coaching as appropriate.
Much of my day is spent in meetings, discussing others’ work with them or reviewing material that will ultimately end up in front of the board.
I am a member of various oversight committees and so some days also involve working through large packs of papers that have been prepared to support important business decisions. This is not as bad as it sounds!
I also need to make time to think and plan, to ensure that I’m using time effectively and keeping my knowledge up to date and to think through how best to exert the influence I need to in my role at Standard Life.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Lots of things – the responsibility, intellectual satisfaction, effective collaboration, coaching others and, above all, helping my employer deliver good outcomes for our customers and shareholders.
As a holder of an ‘Approved Person’ role, I get a real buzz about knowing that my job matters, that I have important responsibilities that make a difference to the wellbeing of the firm.
I really enjoy the intellectual satisfaction one gets from analysing lots of data and information from various sources and working out what it means for the business – turning complexity into clear solutions.
Working effectively with others is vital to being an actuary, particularly for the sort of role I have. I really enjoy exchanging ideas with other colleagues, whether actuarial or from other backgrounds – e.g. Finance, Risk, Marketing – helping them to appreciate where I’m coming from, but also understanding their points of view and adapting my views and/or influencing approaches accordingly.
I get a lot of satisfaction from helping others develop their skills and take on new challenges. I’m the executive sponsor of our ‘recently qualified actuaries’ development programme and I really enjoy sharing experiences with my younger colleagues, discussing what it means to be a finance/actuarial professional and helping them to achieve more of their potential.
I also enjoy learning new things and keeping my own knowledge up to date. There are lots of developments affecting actuaries just now, particularly with Solvency II approaching, and it’s vital, as an AFH, that I’m aware of what is going on and what it might mean for my employer.
Of course, without satisfied customers and investors, we wouldn’t have a business.
The insurance sector performs a really valuable role in society in helping people provide for the future. I get a lot of satisfaction in being part of such a worthwhile industry.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Yes – if you like problem solving and want a satisfying role that combines intellectual rigour with commercial decision-making, particularly within the world of finance, then being an actuary could be for you. However, being an effective actuary is more than just about brains.
You need to be able to work well with others, applying your abilities to produce solutions and communicate them effectively.